Caterham Motorsport Mid Season Review 2016

Unbelievably, Saturday evening at Snetterton marked the halfway point of the 2016 Caterham Motorsport season. For those at the top of their respective tables, there still feels like ample opportunities to throw it all away. For those looking to make up ground, opportunities feel like they are waning.

There have been some fantastic races throughout the opening half of the season and it’s all still to play for if other seasons are anything to go by.

Caterham Academy 2016 – Green Group

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Tom John leads a busy Pack at Rockingham. Pic SnappyRacers

The first race of the season for the Green Group started in the Aintree hotel bar. This was a race that was very much lost by Pete Spencer. One of the pre-season favourites absolutely destroyed by the rest of the field. Sprinting in general didn’t seem to be Pete’s forté with only a clutch of 4th places to show for his efforts. However, the season has now moved into the race phase and after a fabulous Rockingham, with a win and fastest lap – he very much backed this up by just missing out over the line at Snetterton for race 2.

It’s Steve Tozer that took the win at Snetterton and he trails by a single point in the standings. A point that should have been in the bag, but he threw it away on the last lap at Rockingham. Still, the win at Snetterton was a great way to bounce back and he’ll be looking to continue that form into the latter half of the year. Hopefully the point lost at the Rock won’t come back to haunt him.

The third of a high speed green group trio is Tom John. In true NASCAR form, he has two first names – and in true NASCAR form, he’s also settled into the slipstream well with a dominant lap record at Snetterton. However, after a win at the first sprint, he threw away a result in Curborough and looked to have done it again at Snetterton with a spin on the opening lap of the restart. In one of the longest ‘spins’ ever recorded – he dropped deep into the field and only a stellar recovery drive got him back to the podium.

Outside of the top three – things are a little more fluid. Pete Walters heads the chasers with a great set of results. He had an intense battle with Nick Graham at Snetterton and it looked like it got too close a couple of times with some contact leading to Nick spinning. Once as a direct result and then again out of frustration. Both are in a battle with Matt Gray and Marcus Rawlinson who have shown equal speed and will be looking to break into the podiums in the remaining 3 races.

There are plenty in the mid-tables who, once dropped scores are taken into account, are far from out of the running. Whether that be through having missed a round due to outside commitments or having issues out on track.

The quality of the racing on show has been great so far and as everyone’s confidence and experience levels rise, it looks like we’re in for a great finale to the Green Group’s Academy campaign.

Caterham Academy Championship 2016 – White Group

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The Academy in their first race. Close racing is a guarantee in Caterhams. Pic SnappyRacers

Ben Gillias leads the White Group by a fairly comfortable 7 points thanks to 2 wins and 2 seconds places over the opening 4 rounds. However, with dropped points taken into account, things are very much closer. Ben’s earned his lead by fact of being consistent and always being in the mix. A lucky reprieve from a bad start in Rockingham, where the race needed to be reset may point to luck also being on his side. That’s an ingredient that is hard to come by but great to have.

It’s been Jay McCormack who looks to be closest to challenging Ben in the races. Leading the vast majority of laps at Rockingham and Snetterton he certainly knows how to race. Only a last lap track limits transgression cost him the Snetterton win. His relaxed style and insistence on tooting his horn at his family on every lap shows there’s additional capacity to spare and he will surely figure in the second half of the season.

It’s James Beardwell that is actually second in the championship currently with a win and two thirds to his name already. However, at Rockingham and Snetterton he made costly mistakes that took him out of the running for the wins and back into the clutches of a busy pack of drivers. If he can cut out these mistakes, he’ll challenge for the championship.

Speaking of that busy pack of drivers, Phillip Bianchi, Richard Toomey and Eric Tiv joined James Beardwell at Snetterton for a ding dong battle from lights to flag. It was great to watch. All three drivers are going well but need to find an additional level if they want to win it.

The mid pack can’t be ignored in this group either. There are some quick drivers that haven’t yet had a run of luck – or have just managed to have poor luck – and there’s nothing to say the top drivers will have it all their own way for the final 3 races.

Caterham Roadsport Championship 2016

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A stream of cars has been a regular sight through the Roadsport races this year. Pic SnappyRacers

The Roadsport grid has given some brilliant track action in the opening half of 2016. The races have been close and hard fought between a large bunch of closely matched drivers.

Russ Olivant has continued his great form from the end of the Academy year and leads the standings by a huge 32 points. However, that’s largely down to the majority of the other contenders having DNF’s against their name as well as several with penalty points as well.

Accounting for drop scores, this championship is still very much within the reach of at least 6 drivers. New comer Guy Hawkins has seen an incredible run of form, starting strong and getting stronger as the season has progressed. A double win at Snetterton is a highly impressive way to lay down intent for the second half of the year.

Dan Quintaro is also on the podium more often than not and a highly impressive fight back through the field in race 2 at Snetterton has kept his championship challenge alive.

Rob Watts, David Bevan and Alan Cooper all made an impressive train of cars at Snetterton and are showing speed coming into the second half of the season. Rui Frreria is suffering an uncharacteristic lull in form, after a strong start to the season. It’s hard to believe that it will continue for much longer and he’s sure to figure on the podium more in the final races of the year.

It’s telling that strong point scores appear all the way down the Roadsport table and so it’s simply not possible to call how things will settle. There’s still plenty of opportunity for people lower down the scores to push higher and if the opening half of the season is anything to go by, it’s guaranteed there are surprises yet to come.

Caterham Tracksport Championship 2016

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Barnes and Bremner have consistently been ahead of the chasing pack this year. Pic SnappyRacers

Anthony Barnes came into this season as favourite to take home the trophy. Certainly, he’s had a great run through the opening half of the season with 4 wins and 4 second places. 3 fastest laps to boot and things are looking rosy for the Team Parker racer.

A slightly smaller grid than the rest of the championships this year it didn’t look like anyone would have the fire power and consistency to deal with Barnes. However, Dan Bremner skipping Roadsport in favour of moving to Tracksport has meant that Barnes hasn’t had it all his own way. The speeding tandem of Bremner and Barnes have consistently left the remaining field in their wake. Bemner’s score card isn’t quite as good as Barnes with 2 wins and 2 seconds. However, the killer for him has been a couple of lower finishes and crucially, at Snetterton, penalty points and exclusion from the second race results. There’s still time to recover but it’s a long shot.

Damian Milkins currently lies 2nd in the championship after a consistent set of results. He has only one podium spot to show for his efforts as yet. Still, consistency pays and the remaining races offer chances to solidify. When drop scores come into play, it will be hard to keep the championship podium though.

Andy Ebdon is currently 4th, Paul Wells sits 6th. They are both in the same boat as Milkins. A really solid set of results so far but with the addition of some more fast drivers at head of the field could see this slide unless they can find some more time on track.

It won’t be helped by a resurgent field at Snetterton, where it wasn’t all about Bremner and Barnes. Newcomer Matt Lambert shocked everyone with the pace to win the double. And it wasn’t only Matt joining the leading two this time. Paul Aram made a welcome return to the field after a guest appearance at Anglesey. This time, competing for the win in the leading group.

Barry Moore showed some brilliant pace at Snetterton. In a season where he hasn’t been able to keep up with the leading two so far, could Snetterton show the shape of the rest of the year? Moore will be hoping so.

The mid field is as fluid as ever. Some drivers have missed rounds – so dropped scores are very much in play. Rimer and McCulley have both been there or thereabouts.

If we see a return to the Championship of Al Calvert and Joe Draper at some point this year, that lead group we saw at Snetterton could grow further and we’d finally see the championship that this could have been.

Caterham Supersport Championship 2016

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Will Smith leads a high speed carpark. Pic SnappyRacers

44 drivers have so far scored points in the 2016 Caterham Supersport Championship. And it’s a championship that’s so tightly fought that nearly everyone has seen mixed results from round to round. Everyone, apart from Will Smith that is.

Even over the the long, technical and challenging Snetterton 300 track, the top 16 were covered by 1.5s in qualifying – the top 13 all within 1 second of pole. It’s fairly unfathomable therefore how Will has managed to win 7 out of 8 races. Where he didn’t win, he finished a lowly 4th place! Just a fantastic run of form for the DPR Motorsport driver borne out of racing skill, because it’s certainly not been easy.

A whole gaggle of cars have routinely hounded him and reminded him that any false step could see those wins turn into 10th places.

Leading those chasers is Henry Heaton. Henry won where Will couldn’t and, apart from one blip, has finished on the podium in every race. Any other year and this would have been in touching distance of the lead, however, he currently sits 20 points down on Will. But, with the drop scores, it’s at least possible for him to be right in the title fight heading into the final round.

Jack Brown has also had a strong start to the year. Pre-season, he looked to be the one to beat and his outright pace is untouchable on some tracks. His focus and concentration this year have also been steely. However, he’s slipped off the podium a few times and with some penalty points counting against him, he will need to have a fantastic end to the season if he wants to win. Having said that, we’re coming into Oulton Park, where Jack made everyone look slow last year.

Then comes a gaggle of drivers who have all taken podiums but who have also slipped down the highly competitive grids at times. Christian Szaruta, Max McDonagh, Chris Hutchinson and Andres Sinclair have all seen varied results but have generally kept it on the black stuff and near the pointy end of the grid. Szaruta has often been fighting right at the front and only a few bad results in qualifying are holding him back. He’s come through the field many times this year already but Snetterton was his worst weekend so far and it’s cost points. Max McDonagh, on the other hand, is in the ascendency. Now out of the Tracksport which he never fully mastered and fully to grips with the Supersport car, results are starting to flow.

It’s close between these two and Andres, but Andres had to miss Snetterton owing to exams and this has put him artificially down the standings currently. He’ll be fighting for the championship podiums once he’s back in the cockpit at Oulton.

Hutchinson looks set to be in a season long battle in between the top of the grid and the chasing pack. A position that’s seen varied results from podium to 11th place. Not as strong a start to the year as he’s become accustomed to but hoping, I’m sure, to turn that around for the second half of the year.

And what of that ferocious mid field? Gore, Evans, Mingoia, Maple, Weaver, Tuck, Robinson, Powell, Dickens and Ainscough to name a few. It’s insulting to call that the mid grid as all regularly figure in lead battles. But all, for one reason or another, have suffered some lower finishes or DNFs that have likely taken them out of the fight for the ultimate win.

What is sure is that there will be plenty of people looking to turn their seasons around starting from Oulton, and there are lots of others who will be nervously looking in their rearview mirrors waiting for them to arrive.

Caterham R300-S Superlight Championship 2016

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Aaron head on pole at Snetterton. A common sight this year. Pic SnappyRacers

It’s been an epic spectacle to behold a full grid of R300’s through this years events. The R300-S is a true beast of a machine and watching the field go hammer and tongs at each round has been a treat.

As pre-season favourite, Aaron Head has lived up to high expectations and has come home in front in 7 of the 8 rounds and taken 5 of the fastest laps to boot. It’s been a highly impressive run of form from the DPR Motorsport driver but he hasn’t always given himself an easy ride. It’s been necessary to come back through the field more than once to secure his results.

Lee Wiggins has again been highly consistent and has again seen that result in a string of second places. He took the win that Aaron couldn’t manage and also has a fastest lap to his name. But it just seems that Aaron has an edge that Wiggins, and the rest of the field, haven’t quite matched yet.

Jack Sales took the decision to prematurely finish a frustrating Tracksport season in 2015 so as to make the jump straight to the R300 class this year. And he’s made an immediate impression on the field, qualifying high at every round and finishing on, or near to, the podium at all rounds. The high temperatures have caused him, like others, to suffer power issues when running in the pack but so far, these have not proved too detrimental and he sits an excellent 3rd in the standings.

Clive Richards and Stephen Nuttall are next up. They have had also been scoring heavy points this year but both have had hiccups along the way. Stephen suffering a broken drive shaft in Zolder and Clive running low down the order in the opening round at Brands Hatch. Both will be working hard to change things around and take further podiums in the remaining rounds. Nutall, finally finding out what it feels to be human this year.

Behind this regular leading pack, there are others that are sitting lower in the standings. However, for some, this is due to DNFs or having to miss rounds of the season. We also saw the withdrawal of Jon Mortimer from the championship. And Danny Winstanley broke his car at Zolder and has yet to return to the fold. Jon and Danny were strong podium contenders.

Jeremy Ellis has put in a good run of form, but when dropped scores are taken into account, he’ll have to up his results to stay ahead of Philip Gladman – who’s having a varied but strong inaugural year in his R300 – Danny Killeen – who couldn’t attend Snetterton – and Matt Dyer – who had mechanical issues at Zolder in both races.

The top of the championship may be all but won, however, it will be fascinating to see how the rest of the order settles itself in the second half of the year.

Have I missed something in my report? Someone having a stellar season that didn’t even get a mention? Why not comment and put the records straight!